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A name: first, possibly a middle, and surname.

I'm curious about how much information you can mine out of a name, using publicly available datasets. I know that you can get the following with anywhere between a low-high probability (depending on the input) using US census data: 1) Gender. 2) Race.

Facebook for instance, used exactly that to find out, with a decent level of accuracy, the racial distribution of users of their site (https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=205925658858).

What else can be mined? I'm not looking for anything specific, this is a very open-ended question to assuage my curiousity.

My examples are US specific, so we'll assume that the name is the name of someone located in the US; but, if someone knows of publicly available datasets for other countries, I'm more than open to them too.

I'm not quite sure if this is the right place for this, if it's not, I'd appreciate if someone could point me to a more appropriate place.

I hope this is an interesting question, and this is the appropriate place!

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    $\begingroup$ presumably you could get something about geographic location as well, if you could get the appropriate matching data? You could also use information about popularity of first names over time (google "baby name wizard") to make inferences about age ... $\endgroup$ – Ben Bolker Jan 2 '11 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ I have merged the transferred question with the duplicate. $\endgroup$ – user88 Jan 3 '11 at 22:20

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This is not a serious answer, but I just remembered something from a book I read a year ago. There is a chapter in Freakonomics devoted to what you can tell about a person from the name. The chapter is based on the author's research paper The causes and consequences of distinctively black names

I think I've found an excerpt or summary of it in this article

The data show that, on average, a person with a distinctively black name—whether it is a woman named Imani or a man named DeShawn—does have a worse life outcome than a woman named Molly or a man named Jake. But it isn't the fault of his or her name. If two black boys, Jake Williams and DeShawn Williams, are born in the same neighborhood and into the same familial and economic circumstances, they would likely have similar life outcomes. But the kind of parents who name their son Jake don't tend to live in the same neighborhoods or share economic circumstances with the kind of parents who name their son DeShawn. And that's why, on average, a boy named Jake will tend to earn more money and get more education than a boy named DeShawn. DeShawn's name is an indicator—but not a cause—of his life path.

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From the first name predict region, age, first generation immigrant status. From the last name you could predict geographical location of original patronym. For the full name you could predict social and economic status (Thurston Howell III).

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 just for the 1st mention on this site of a Gilligan's Island character. $\endgroup$ – rolando2 Jul 11 '12 at 17:21
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Just to add in to other suggestions here, one of the largest sources for family data is the raft of genealogy sites out there. I think most western people are probably listed by some family member, distant or otherwise on a few of them and any such inclusion comes with a usually comprehensive family tree attached, complete with places, birth details, etc. Very informative.

If you cross match that data with friend graphs in Facebook, as people tend to add siblings/cousins (and parents/children on occasion), then use the locational data with electoral roles and directories, you can usually pinpoint people even with common names, and get a surprisingly large amount of data on them.

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The last chapter of Freakonomics (2005, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner) has a fascinating discussion about names, particularly as they relate to socio-economic status and race.

They have a list of first names that might or might not correlate well with FB's analysis of last names. They also describe how name choice is changing diachronically (across time).

Who knows -- the parents' selection name might be more accurate than what people report on the census.

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You've got lots of good suggestions above, so I'll just mention an interesting anecdote. A summer student (now a prominent computer scientist) at a corporate research lab (which shall remain nameless) looked at the data from the company's online phone directory, and built a predictive model for pay grade using character n-grams from names. The strongest predictor was that ez_ indicated lower pay grade, a finding I imagine he was not encouraged to talk about...

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You probably could find out:

  1. Profession and possibly job history, if one participates in any professional discussions (current job usually can be found out from either domain name in email or signature, search would reveal past ones too)
  2. Relatives, if one maintains profile on social networks.
  3. Current location, at least up to the city.
  4. Ethnic background, if one has distinct name (i.e., somebody named "Lubomir" is probably connected to one of the Slavic European countries, etc.).
  5. Birth date from social networks - people tend to congratulate a person on or around his birth date, and if you're lucky you also get the year when one turns 25, 30, 35 etc. as one of the people congratulating would probably mention it if not the person in question.
  6. Educational background - from LinkedIn, etc.
  7. Hobbies, favorite sports teams, etc.
  8. If one is a pet lover, he'd probably have all his pets on the social networks too.

Which btw means you should never ever use anything from the list above for your passwords, secret questions, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ What about people who have the same name as you... there are a number of "Dean Harding"s out there, one of them was even a professional footballer! The "DeanHarding" on twitter is not me, there's hundreds of "Dean Harding"s on Facebook, etc etc... $\endgroup$ – Dean Harding Jan 3 '11 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ That depends on chance, of course. Usually you can find out which one is it by profession, location, etc. though I saw cases where there were 3 persons with the same full name, in the same profession and living roughly in the same area. Then of course it becomes harder :) $\endgroup$ – StasM Jan 3 '11 at 4:02
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Darden and Robinson (1976) attempted to find a linguistic structure that guides people's associations about men's first names. They asked two groups of subjects (sociology students and naval officers) to rate a set of common American names along semantic differentials such as soft-tough, common-noble, and urban-rural. They also asked for similarity judgments between the different pairs of names, and by way of validation they correlated the means from the semantic differentials with the dimensions that they found, both in three and four D solutions, using the TORSCA MDS procedure.

The authors found their 3-D solution to roughly correspond with Osgood's classic trio of activation, evaluation and potency. In four dimensions, the space fit the data slightly better, and here they interpreted the structure as depending upon “character,” “maturity,” “sociability,” and “virility,” although these scales do not seem nearly as well defined as the authors suggested. One surprising finding that came from the study was that, at least for these two small samples (n = 83 and 21), no dimension appeared that corresponded to the distinction between given name and nickname.

Darden, D. K., and Robinson, I. E. (1976). Multidimensional scaling of men’s first names: A sociolinguistic approach. Sociometry, 39, 4, 422-431.

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The amount of information that can be found varies wildly, from just race and gender, to all sorts of personal info. Your best bet at getting the information would be social network sites like facebook, as they generally provide more information than cencus databases.

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There's quite a wide range of information you can get depending on the sources you use. Census data is an obvious one. You can also get information from Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites. You could also probably search public news archives for mentions of their name. Maybe even those ubclained property sites that some states have.

If you want a real world world example of what can be done, take a look at pipl.com

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you tell us where (anywhere in the world) we can find Census data with names? $\endgroup$ – whuber Mar 27 '13 at 19:17
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You can look for degrees, driver's licence, police record (is it the right translation ?). With facebook you can find informations about hobbies, sports, liked music. You can also look for other's social media proportion of user with a given name. (I would be interested in this results)

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Don't forget Scrabble scores, e.g. Wolfram Alpha scrabble score function

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    $\begingroup$ Could you elaborate on what this has to do with the original poster's question? $\endgroup$ – D.W. Jul 11 '12 at 4:17
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If you know something about the location of the individual, one source of information are voter registration databases. Many of the voter registration databases are available (for a fee; there are companies that buy them up and provide online query access to them, for a fee). The voter registration database might have the individual's address and/or date of birth. That information might enable you to look up the individual in other databases.

However, there are limits on how much this helps. This might be helpful if you know the city or county where the person lives, and if their name is fairly unusual. But if this is a common name, or if you don't know where they live, it probably isn't going to help you.

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one of the largest sources for publicly accessible data including many other usefull attributes are the county clerks office for property ownership records. the issu relates to pulling al the data together... some states provide a central database but others dont.

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The presence of middle initials is already quite interesting, and it might tell us something about ethnicity. http://blog.scraperwiki.com/2012/06/15/middle-names-in-the-united-states-over-time/

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